(3rd blog post in a series on building godly character in our children)
Obedience is one of the most important character qualities to help our children develop as they grow up. We want our children to be obedient to us as parents, to others in authority and ultimately to God. But obedience doesn’t just naturally happen. We need to help our children understand the importance of it and guide them in developing this character quality.
According to Vine’s Dictionary, obedience in the verb form is defined as listening, being attentive and submitting. It can be used in the context of obeying God or obeying someone in authority over us. When we teach our children to be obedient to us and to others in authority over them, we’re also building the foundation for them to learn to ultimately be obedient to God. Children who don’t learn to obey their parents are less likely to be submissive and obedient to others in authority over them and, even more importantly, to God later in life.
Our goal should be to develop a heart of obedience in our children, where the obedience isn’t just outward, but also inward and done with a cheerful heart. Teaching children about obedience to us and to God is foundational. It will impact all their decisions in life. Also, when we obey God, we show that we have faith in Him and trust Him; and we bring Him honor. Likewise, when children obey their parents, they bring them honor as well. In Ephesians 6, God commands children to obey their parents and honor their father and mother. The result: things will go well for them, and they will live long. A key to teaching obedience is to teach your children WHY they should obey: share with them that obedience is pleasing to God, honors you as their parents and brings them blessings and a long life.
Children who are willfully disobedient to their parents or others in authority are not only unpleasant to be around, but they can actually be a danger to themselves! For example, if they won’t respond to the command to “stay out of the street,” they could easily get hit by a car. Once they get into their teens, there are many dangerous situations they can get themselves into if they choose to defy safety rules most parents put in place (don’t drive and text, don’t take drugs, etc.).
While most parents know that obedience is a good thing, it’s amazing how hard it is for us as parents to stay consistent and work on teaching our children to obey! It’s hard work! Plus, in our society there is a tendency to fear being overly controlling with our children, and there’s a trend to let children have their own way rather than discipline them too much. I believe children need boundaries and guidance to learn how to live wisely.
I knew a child once whose parents didn’t give him guidelines and direction, and they didn’t discipline him much at all during his growing up years. He was constantly acting out to see if he could find where his boundaries were! Frankly, he was not an enjoyable child to be around. Unfortunately he grew up struggling with anxiety and continues to this day to not do well with authority, living a fairly self-centered life. His parents definitely did him a disservice.
When children are young, we need to teach them to obey us as parents and train them to be obedient to others in authority as well. But what if you have older children and you feel you’ve already lost the battle in regard to obedience? Maybe you feel like your children rule the home rather than you. Or maybe your children obey sometimes, but they argue to get what they want rather than just obey you the first time you tell them to do something. Either way, with God’s help, you can still train them to be obedient to you; and I urge you to make the effort to do so before it’s too late!
I want to share with you 12 ways to work on building obedience in your children (these can apply to teaching obedience to you as parents, as well as obedience to God):
- Pray for your children each day, asking God to work in their hearts and give them a heart of submission and obedience. Pray for wisdom to teach them and train them in this area as well, and for the ability to be consistent in how you handle rebellious moments.
- If you’re starting from a place where your children are older and bad habits of disobedience have developed, have a family meeting and let them know that you’ve realized things need to change and that you want to obey God in regard to teaching them to be obedient.
- Memorize scripture together that relate to obedience to you as parents, and also obedience to God:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” … Ephesians 6:1-3
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” Proverbs 1:8-9
“To obey is better than sacrifice” I Samuel 15:22
“Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.” Deuteronomy 11:1
- Set up dates with your children to spend one-on-one time with them! Developing close relationships with your children will help develop their obedience to you. It’s much easier for children to obey a parent who shows them that they truly love them by spending time with them!
- Do a Bible study on obedience such as: “Because I Said So: a Biblical Study of Obedience” by Kim Sorgius together as a family.
- Try the “Flopped Cookies” activity from “Kids of Integrity” as an object lesson on the importance of obedience: There are several other activities which focus on teaching obedience on that website that you might like as well.
- With younger children, you can role-play by playing the game “Run to Mommy or Daddy.” Make it fun, and give lots of hugs as you repeatedly call them to you using the phrase “run to Mommy” or “run to Daddy.” You can change your commands as well. The key is to practice having them obey the first time you tell them to do something. Keep your tone of voice calm, and expect obedience. If they don’t obey, calmly walk over and help them do what you’ve asked them to do.
- Train your children to obey the first time you tell them to do something. Have you heard it said, “Delayed disobedience is still disobedience?” It’s true! Talk with your children about the importance of obeying the first time they’re told to do something. Read the story of Jonah and the whale, and discuss how things would have gone differently for Jonah if he had just obeyed God the first time He told him to go to Nineveh.
- Reward obedience with compliments such as “thank you for your prompt response!” or “I love it when you are quick to obey me like that!” You don’t need to acknowledge every act of obedience because obedience should be expected, but compliments and other positive reinforcements are very motivating for some children.
- With older children, explain to them that if they obey you cheerfully and promptly, and do so consistently, they will be rewarded with more freedom and independence. These types of privileges are earned when a child can be trusted to do the right thing.
- Read books on obedience together as a family. (There are some for all ages here and they are linked to affiliates):
- “The Story About Ping” by Marjorie Flack
- “A Children’s Book About Disobeying” from the “Help Me Be Good” Series by Joy Wilt Berry
- “You Want Me To Do What? A Bible Study Workbook on Obedience” for ages 6-12 by Cheryl Crane
- “Tiny Thoughts on Obedience: Children, Obey Your Parents” by Agnes de Bezenac and Salem de Bezenac
- “Obey, Don’t Stray” (Character Classics) by Tony Salerno andCesar E. De Castro
- “Wild and Wacky Totally True Bible Stories“- All About Obedience” by Frank Peretti
- For more ideas, read this great post on how to develop a heart of obedience in our children:
Teaching obedience is probably one of the most challenging parts of parenting, but also one of the most important! If you feel you need more help on parenting and teaching your children to obey, consider taking this online course: “Discipline that Connects with Your Child’s Heart” by Jim and Lynne Jackson. Or read their book: “Discipline that Connects with Your Child’s Heart”
Another amazing book on training your child is “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp, which teaches you how to get to the heart of the matter on obedience. There’s also a parent handbook to give you more guidance.
May the Lord bless you as you train your child in obedience and give you wisdom beyond your own to know what is best for your child.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
If you have ideas to share on this topic or comments, I’d love to hear from you!